The Philadephia Eagles secured the final NFC wildcard slot and slipped into the playoffs this past season. Many would consider that a solid performance, given the expectations with a brand new head coach and second-year quarterback. However, if they are going to take the next step this year, it will take improved contributions from their 2021 first-round pick, DeVonta Smith.
Early 2022 fantasy drafts saw Smith’s ADP near the top-15 wide receiver range. Then, in one of the most significant moments of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Eagles acquired A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans for a bundle of picks. From that point on, Smith’s ADP took a tumble. As of July, he’s settled around WR33 in drafts. I view that as a gift to get this highly talented receiver at a discount.
Note: Our Wednesday, July 6th No Punt Intended episode will cover DeVonta Smith in fantasy football! We welcome special guest Michelle Magdziuk from BallBlast Fantasy and the NFL Network! The show will be digging into the Eagles, Patriots, and Steelers.
DeVonta Smith in Fantasy Football
Rookie Season Review
After whiffing on Jalen Reagor with their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft (I don’t need to remind you which wide receiver was selected right after), the Eagles’ front office was under pressure to find a playmaker for their young quarterback. So in the 2021 NFL Draft, they pulled the trigger on the Heisman winner from Alabama with the 10th overall pick.
Smith quickly took over as the team’s leading receiver, finishing the season with 64 receptions for 916 yards and five touchdowns. While that didn’t amount to much for fantasy (WR41 in ppg), it was a promising rookie season that shows positive signs of the future.
The low-volume passing attack that head coach Nick Sirianni implemented hindered Smith’s overall production. Only three teams attempted fewer passes per game than the Eagles did in 2021. Nevertheless, Smith made the most of his limited opportunities, posting an impressive 2.16 yards per route run. That was the 15th-highest among NFL receivers and second-best among rookies.
In the last five years, only six rookie receivers with at least 100 targets achieved 14 or more yards per reception: D.K. Metcalf, Jerry Jeudy, Chase Claypool, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and DeVonta Smith.
It’s virtually impossible for a highly drafted rookie to have an underrated good season …
But DeVonta Smith had an underrated great season.
• PFF Grade: 77.2 (4th among 21 class)
• 24.2% TPRR (5th)
• 22.1% TS (3rd)
• 38.9% AY (1st)
▶️ 14.4 ADOT
• 2.16 YPRR (2nd)
— Jakob Sanderson (@FF_RTDB) January 14, 2022
While it’s unlikely Smith will continue to operate as the team’s top wideout, don’t leave him for dead in fantasy. Brown still needs to prove that he can command a significant target share while having a high-caliber receiver like Smith playing on the other side. Comparing their rookie seasons, Smith holds the higher target share of the two (22.1% to Brown’s 19.5%).
Brown has grown his target share per game to 25% and 27% over the past two seasons, per Player Profiler, but his main competition has been a hobbled Julio Jones and former first-round bust Corey Davis. Expect this to be a WR1A-1B situation, not complete domination of targets by one of the other. Brown should have the better year-end production, but Smith will have stretches where he leads the way.
The other primary concern with DeVonta Smith is the Philadelphia offense. As I mentioned earlier, the run-heavy approach didn’t yield many opportunities for the pass catchers last season. I’m not sure that’s how Sirianni wants to run his offense going forward.
Change is Inevitable
Through the first seven weeks of 2021, the Eagles averaged 34.7 pass attempts per game (APG). Over the next nine games (not counting Week 18 — rested the starters), that mark dropped to 24.1 APG. So there was a significant adjustment made mid-season, but why?
My take on the change: Sirianni realized he didn’t have an “alpha” receiver on the outside to limit the passing attack. They were so much more effective running the ball. So Sirianni decided to lean into the old school ground ‘n pound mentality, which was good enough to sneak them into the playoffs. Sadly, it didn’t get them very far once they ran into an offensive juggernaut like Tampa.
Giving up the capital they did to acquire A.J. Brown shows signs of a team that wants to air it out more. If they maintain the passing rate they had through the first seven weeks for all of 2022, it will amount to an additional 90 pass attempts on the year. That’s 90 more opportunities for the pass catchers to rack up fantasy points.
There is no doubt that the arrival of A.J. Brown negatively impacts the ceiling of DeVonta Smith. A Top 10 wide receiver finish is unlikely to occur while Brown is healthy. However, he is still firmly in the fantasy WR2 with upside conversation.
Tee Higgins and Hollywood Brown are glowing examples of why we need to trust highly talented receivers to produce, even in less than ideal situations like a crowded depth chart or low-volume passing offense. A WR33 ADP is the cheapest Smith will be for a very long time, so don’t pass it up!
This toe drag catch by Smith was crazy! 🔥 @DeVontaSmith_6 pic.twitter.com/jTyr0KVVOu
— Word On The Birds (@WordOnTheBirds) July 3, 2022
A Look Inside the Philadelphia Eagles
Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to focus on one player, but we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Drew focused on DeVonta Smith in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the Eagles, prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse.
Jalen Hurts: Hurts has the weapons, the rushing upside, and the affordable draft capital to be a league-winner this season. Philly threw the ball more than anyone to start the season last year, but they started to win when they ran it more. So which offense will we see? If it’s Weeks 1-9, Hurts could be the overall QB1. If it’s 10-18, he’s still a top-12 option, but the upside is limited. -Ryan Weisse
Miles Sanders: Do you need more analysis than “Don’t draft me in fantasy football!”? Sanders himself said the offense makes him hard to trust. They split their backfield touches, leading to boom or bust weeks. Even at an affordable ADP, Sanders is best suited for Best Ball. -Ryan Weisse
Kenneth Gainwell/Boston Scott/Kennedy Brooks: So many backups, everyone has their favorite, and we can all be wrong! If one person assumed the goal-line role a la Jordan Howard, that would be the player you want. Why clog your roster with the backups if you can’t even trust the starter? -Ryan Weisse
AJ Brown: Brown is in a great spot to succeed. The Eagles paid a lot for him, and he will be an essential target for this offense. There are two issues. First, will we see the high passing volume to get him the 130+ targets he’ll need to be a top-10 WR? Second, why are we already drafting him as a top-10 WR when he’s never been that in an entire season? -Ryan Weisse
Dallas Goedert: Goedert should lose some redzone work to AJ Brown but will still be one of the most heavily targeted TEs in fantasy. Fantasy managers can expect a step back from 2022, but with Zach Ertz gone and no real 2nd TE to lean on, all tight end work should fall in his lap. He’s a top-10 guy but without a top-5 ceiling. -Ryan Weisse
We hope you enjoyed our look at DeVonta Smith for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here.